Thursday, 14 February 2019

A Perfect Spring Day

Does anyone else send Valentines cards to their children from their dogs? No? Just me then. This year I didn't, because L told me not to after last year's card. It's weird, he said, getting a valentine's card from your dog is just weird. Today I asked him, ultra casual like: so, don't any of your friends get Valentines from their animals then? He gave me a withering look, stuffed a freshly baked jam tart into his mouth and said round the crumbs No one else's mum is as weird as you are, before grinning and wandering off. I get birthday presents from the wildlife in the garden. 

We walked early this morning, the hounds and I. I'm having a day off running. I won't bore you with the latest shoe developments, mainly because I'm bored of them myself. The air was cold and the woods and fields were wreathed in mist. It was very beautiful, although I was a bit grumpy when we met three other people out walking their dogs. I go early in order to avoid other people. I saw the farm manager too, but he doesn't count seen as how he blends quietly with the land. He was on his mobile and we exchanged a wave as I strode by, Ted with poo all over one side of his face after an illegal rolling episode.

By the time I got home the fog had lifted and the day has been proper spring ever since. Birds singing, sun shining, blue skies. I checked the pond for newts after shampooing Ted, but only saw honey bees drinking water off the moss round the edges which acts like a sponge. As I was looking for newts, a bright green male siskin landed on a branch beside me and spent a good few minutes looking at me. I was just starting to wonder whether he was ever going to go when he decided he'd looked long enough and flew over to the sunflower hearts. Poppy was busy tracking voles in the long grass while Ted lay in the sun. Two crows chased a jackdaw over the house and garden before one landed in the oak and cawed loudly, indignant about the temerity of the jackdaw coming too close, but in past years it is the jackdaws who have nested in the chimney. We had one fall down it one year and had to remove the old victorian plate to get the poor thing out. Chaffinches are singing everywhere loudly at the moment, and there is a proper dawn chorus now a little before seven. Nesting will start soon and in preparation, we took all the bird houses down last weekend, cleaned them, and fixed new woodpecker-proof metal plates to the entrance holes, different sizes for different species. The bluetit ones are tiny! I hope they work., because last year's GSW raid was upsetting to see and hear. I checked the stream by the house for toads today too, because they should be appearing any day now, but I didn't find any. Usually, I wake up in the night and hear them singing on the patio, a soft, cooing sound that always makes me smile. And as if in final proof that spring is coming, I noticed the female catkins are out on the hazel- small clumps of bright pink punk-rocker hair on the bud ends. There'll be a frost again tomorrow morning I'm sure, but today has been a timely reminder that spring is coming.

Hope you're all well?


Monday, 11 February 2019

Lytchett Ten

Just finished!

With RRR club buddy Keith

I've got a lot on my plate at the moment, lots to sort out, manage and work through. Almost all of it is coming from other people, as is often the way! Left to ourselves, M and I would have a largely peaceful, untroubled existence, but life isn't like that, heh? There's not been a great deal of let up in it over the past few weeks and it's tiring. It also doesn't form the best backdrop when you're trying to prepare for a race. Because of this, I wasn't sure how the Lytchett ten mile would go yesterday.

In an attempt to at least put the things I could influence in order, I met up with three of my most experienced and talented running buddies at various stages over last week to talk running-related hiccups through with them. In my job, I am used to being the one that people come to for advice, solutions and support, so it's a different experience for me to be the one asking others for the same.

One of these friends is a seriously talented runner; he qualified for the London marathon last year by getting a championship place and his marathon PB is close to 2:45. He's also a doctor, and someone who doesn't speak unless he's thought properly about what he's saying. He's also someone who keeps his achievements quiet so you find out from others exactly how good he is. He was my first port of call for advice. 

You may remember that last year I had some custom orthoses made up to help with the knee pain I was experiencing. I've run in them for a year and while that knee pain has resolved, I've now got it in the other leg, which suggests to me either they've outlived their usefulness, or I never needed them in the first place. I don't want to run in them any more, but coming out of orthoses is fraught with counter-advice with some podiatrists saying you can't and others saying you can but you must do it very slowly, and still others saying if they aren't working it's better to just remove them.

Runners are obsessed with their feet and the shoes they put them in: the running shoe market is huge and (I think) over-engineered and over-priced. You're talking £120 for a pair of runners which last anything from 350-500 miles. If you're running long distances regularly you can end up changing them every 2-3 months, which is expensive and bad for the environment. I'm feeling more and more grumpy about it, so last week I bought a new trial pair for £50 to see whether you really do need to spend £120 or not.
Shoes are a mind-boggling minefield of advice and counter-advice and if you're not careful you can end up utterly bogged down in it, worrying yourself into a corner and unable to run without wondering whether you're doing yourself harm. I don't do well in situations like that, I get so far then I get fed up and go my own way, regardless of what 'experts' tell me. I'd much rather listen to the people who've run for years and seen it all, been through it all and done it all.

My doctor friend and I talked all these things over for an hour and I left feeling better and with some useful things to think about.

Next I talked to a friend who is training for a 100 mile run. She's an amazing person, another one who doesn't brag about her achievements but who regularly goes out and clocks up these long, long miles. She's also calm and experienced and had lots of helpful insights and suggestions. 

On Saturday evening a third friend came round to strap my ankle which has been aching and to talk injury and niggles. She's got the science knowledge, knows how all the bones and muscles fit and work together in runners, and as someone who completed her first Iron Man last year in a super-speedy time also has bags of practical running experience over all distances and terrains and in all conditions. 

All three of them said more or less the same thing, which was basically that you can worry too much about every little detail and while some things do need special attention, most don't; you learn to differentiate them with experience. Coming out of orthoses was something they all supported too- we agreed there is a place for them, some people benefit from them, but they aren't a panacea: date, don't marry was the general theme :o)

Feeling reassured, I went to bed in a more positive frame of mind.

Sunday dawned wet and windy. The rain stopped just ahead of the race start and off I went, minus the orthoses and in a brand new pair of running shoes, which breaks all the rules but I was pretty confident it would work out. I set off at a steady pace, threading my way through the field, holding back from going too fast because this is a hilly course but enjoying feeling fresh and full of energy. I'd taken two days off ahead of the race and had put my feet up in the afternoons because I've not been feeling well for a couple of weeks and decided I needed some down time to rest, and it seemed to have paid off.

My 10 mile PB over a flatter course than Lytchett was 1:30 which I ran two years ago. About 5k in to the race it dawned on me that I was feeling strong, running well and could possibly have a crack at beating that time. I knew if I could get in at 1:29 I would be really chuffed, particularly after all the niggles and aches and pains and worries I've had to deal with recently.

I focused on imagining the lack of orthoses as a benefit and the new shoes as the right pair that worked well for my feet and that I could run freer as a result and kept pushing forward, but keeping a steady pace. The hills worked in my favour and before I knew it I was overtaking and overtaking some more. I was really enjoying it. The countryside was lovely, the weather was good and it felt utterly blissful to be running strongly and more-or-less pain free on a proper long-distance race.

The people were lovely too- the marshals were great, a really positive, enthusiastic, cheerful bunch, full of smiles and well dones; the people out on the course watching the runners were clapping and cheering and my fellow competitors were generous at encouraging one another, even when they were being overtaken. 

About 6.5 miles in I fell in behind a lady who was storming up the hills, running really strong and making them look effortless. As the land levelled out and I drew up next to her I told her she was doing brilliantly and helping me get up the hills. We ran together for the next mile or so, chatting, and then as the course started to head downhill and I looked at my watch I realised I could break my previous time if I stepped the pace up. I went ahead and could feel her falling back so I called over my shoulder to encourage her to keep on my heels.

I found myself running at 4.40 then 4.35 mins/km, much faster than normal, but feeling really good on it. All that long distance running and hill work has improved my endurance fitness no end. The next km clocked in at 4.23 and I knew I was going to be able to keep it up to the finish as long as there weren't any more hills.

I came round the corner with half a mile to go and my heart sank as the road led uphill, with a small flood at the bottom. I lost perhaps 20 seconds, but then it levelled out again, my pace picked up again, another small hill slowed me down again then suddenly the finish was ahead. I raced as fast as I could for the line and crossed it in 1:26, knocking four minutes off my previous time. Happy is an understatement :o)

The lovely lady from the hills came in a few minutes after me and we had a hug and congratulated each other. There aren't many areas in life where you hug a complete stranger and both know it's sincere. It's one of the things I love about running- how total strangers form a bond for the duration of a race and help one another out during it. I keep in touch with two runners I met that way, one who ran the final 3 miles of my first marathon with me and really kept me going, and another I raced at a local 10k. We're friends on Strava which means we can see what we've all been doing with our training and leave messages about races where we might meet up again. It's a really nice part of doing the competitions.

M's face was a picture when I finished- he'd decided not to enter the race so had been out on a training run round the local villages and had only just made it back in time to see me cross the finish line. I'm not having any of this "I'll be such-and-such-a-time", he said, grinning. The next time you give me an estimated finish time I'm knocking at least five minutes off it. Which is quite a big complement, coming from him :o)

So, happy days and I feel like I've learnt a lot in the past week too. Running helps me cope with the trickier/ more demanding elements of life, the things we all have to find a way of managing and getting through and finishing a race where I felt I ran strong and put in a good time is the perfect antidote to a stressful time.

Hope you're all well?


Monday, 4 February 2019

CTS Devon Adventure In The Snow

Friday afternoon at home

On the old school bus from Slapton Sands to the start at Beesands, bright and early Saturday morning

Bit chilly for swimming....brrrr

The start field

The path lay right over these rocks

Ankle breakers... :o)

Fresh air, running and the sea = Happy Days!

Hard, slow slog up the hill away from the sea

Snow-capped Dartmoor in the distance

The drive home

Home again, home again, jiggety-jig.

It was touch and go whether we'd make it down to Devon on Friday night. The snow started at home mid-morning and by 4pm it was coming down thick and settling. The Highways Agency was full of tales of woe- roads closed, vehicles abandoned, snow still falling in a thick band heading eastward - and by the time M got back with L at 5pm he had to take two goes to get into the drive because of the ice and snow, and I was seriously questioning the wisdom of heading out in it, especially towards the very region of the country that had been worst affected the night before. The road we needed (the A38) had been closed leaving people stranded in their cars. We don't deal well with snow here in the south, we're just not used to it. I was also worried about leaving L and the dogs to get snowed in while we were stuck in Devon. The house was full of food and L knows all our neighbours on the lane and he wasn't particularly bothered about it, so in reality it wouldn't have been a huge problem, but even so. 

I checked the A303, which was our route down, and discovered a chunk of it was closed as the heavy snow that had hit Devon and Cornwall the night before fell on it and then headed off to Basingstoke where it wreaked rush-hour carnage on the M3.

Why don't we stay here? I suggested to M over supper. We can do parkrun tomorrow and we've got the Longleat 10k on Sunday. It would be safer.

But M is made of sterner stuff. He found a website where you could see the view from various traffic cameras set up on arterial routes round the country and assured me the alternative route I'd picked out (across the forest, past Dorchester, down to Exeter and on to Torquay where we were staying) was snow-free and moving. So, after supper, we packed the car with shovels, blankets and food, plus running kit for the race the next day, left L with instructions for dog and bird food, and headed off through the snow into the night.

I think it was quite possibly the easiest journey down to South Devon we've ever had. The roads were empty of snow and people and we arrived at the Torquay Travelodge barely two and a half hours after leaving home. For the princely sum of £21 we had a spacious, quiet, clean and tidy room with a very comfy bed too.

Next morning, we set off for Slapton Sands where we'd been allocated a space in one of the event carparks (race HQ being in Beesands village, which, you'll know if you've ever been, wouldn't contain several hundred runners' cars). We got straight on a rickety old school bus, laid on by the organisers to transport the runners to the village. Twice it scraped itself along the walls as other cars attempted to get by :o). It was great fun and everyone on the bus was in cheerful good humour, all looking forward to running for miles over the cliffs in the cold :o)

As we waited for the pre-race briefing, a friend sent a message to say parkrun had been cancelled at home, shortly followed by one from L to say the Longleat 10k facebook page had also announced a cancellation of the race the next day due to heavy snow and ice. Ironically, the region that had seemed most difficult to get to was the one where the races were going ahead as planned. I was so glad we'd made the effort to drive down!

M (half marathon) set off with the 10kers (me) following half an hour later. I immediately realised it wasn't as bitter as we'd thought it would be and knew I would regret the extra layers I'd put on to fend off the North wind and sure enough I BOILED on the run. Not nice. I'd much rather be too cold than too hot :o(. 

It was an incredibly hilly, rocky, technical course with boulders in the middle of the path in some places which you had to navigate through, rocks you had to run over in others, mud on the downhills which folk were being understandably cautious about (I had my trusty x-talons on and sailed down these in relative confidence with only one minor slippage while M, who'd mistaken his trail shoes for his fells and brought the wrong ones with him, fell over). There were lots of hills too. Oh. My. Goodness. Were there hills! It was by far the hilliest run I've done, hillier proportionately than the half. This explains why the first 3-4 miles were tough and I spent more time walking than running them. 

Eventually, we came off the cliff path out onto country lanes and a fantastic view of a snow-covered Dartmoor away in the distance with green hills between. Here the 10k course met up again with the half where I, warmed up now and back on tarmac, started running faster and better. I soon realised from the way the other half marathoners around me were running that M must have already gone past, which meant he'd got back a few minutes ahead of me.

It was a glorious run and I loved every minute of it, although by the time I'd warmed up and got into the swing of it I'd finished, so I am REALLY looking forward to being able to get out to do the longer distance runs again. I'm not made for short distances and although I was tired after this one by the next day I didn't really feel like I'd had a run at all, so I went out and did another 6.5 miles with Pop. Not being a fast runner, I find the pace really hard on shorter runs and the psychology doesn't suit me either- I prefer the long game of waiting for everyone around me to tire while I'm getting stronger and then slowly reeling them in. You don't need to do more than hold your steady pace while others around you fall over on a long run :o). My stats bore this out- the first 3-4 miles were by far my slowest, even allowing for the hills, and I only got up to my comfortable pace in the last mile, which was when I caught up with and overtook people who'd streamed away from me at the start. Still, I am maintaining my shorter-distance discipline, with a slightly longer ten mile run to look forward to at the weekend. I'll reassess again after that. It's all good.

We got home to discover the garden under several inches of snow and the drive thick with ice, but all the birds and both dogs had been kept well stocked with food, and the wood burner had been lit for the dogs' sole use earlier in the day. I needn't have worried :o)

How are you all?